This has been a season of reversals so far, with strong premieres stumbling and wobbly starts finding their stride. Check out the shows in need of a second look!
The team split up the three-episode reviews between staff volunteers, with one person putting together a short(ish) review on each series. Like we do with our check-in podcasts, we started from the bottom of our Premiere Digest list and worked our way up.
If we didn’t watch a show for at least three episodes, we skipped it, and we’ve used nice bold headers to help you quickly jump to the shows you’re interested in. We’ve also excluded shows that are continuing on in basically the same vein as our premiere review to conserve space. Unless specifically noted, we will not be mentioning overt spoilers for anything beyond episode three.
We don’t have the time to keep up with everything, so please let us know about any gems we might be missing in the comments!
“Staying the Course” Digest
We’re still enjoying and watching these shows and would recommend them to readers (barring any caveats or content warnings mentioned in the premiere review). However, they’re not doing anything dramatically different in terms of themes, characters, etc., so there isn’t anything new to write about them. Please check out the premiere review if you want to know more about them:
Content Warning: gore
Chiaki: I was asked if this show has some gender stuff going on, and after watching three episodes, I feel like Guideau isn’t so much feeling dysphoria from gender as much as fueled by unbridled rage against witches for the curse of trapping them in the body of a girl. That is to say, Guideau’s gender is violence.
That said, the second and third episodes don’t focus so much on that central conceit of Guideau’s combat prowess and instead look to Ashaf as a detective, taking lead on an investigation to find a witch committing a series of murders. They help allay some of the concerns Alex conveyed, but the show remains a grindhouse horror nevertheless and not for the faint of heart.
Spoilers: Discussion of episode 4.
Content Warning: Heavy fanservice; a brother obsessed with his sister.
Chiaki: Tales of Wedding Rings feels like a story greenlit for an anime OVA in the late 1990s that wanted to tell an epic like the Sword of Truth series, but could only do so after the scriptwriter signed on with a studio like Arms. In other words, despite the interesting setting, somewhat good production quality, and generally likable characters, the conceit of the show will always fall back on Sato getting into horny situations at the end of the day. His life, truly, is as hard as his dick.
The key difference between this show and other isekai harem fantasies is that Sato is genuinely a good guy. He’s respectful of boundaries for the women in his life. Where most isekai boys will make a beeline straight for the nearest slave market to get themselves a wife, Sato shows genuine care for Hime and a sense of fealty to her. Even when he marries Nephrites, his second wife officially, the act is done with enthusiastic consent from all three of them, albeit it’s pushed forward by a life-or-death need for Sato’s wife guy powers to get a boost.
And while I welcome that open and honest polyamory, I will still point out that it is unfortunate that the show depicts Sato and Hime’s relationship as “not strong enough” to defeat the evil hordes.
One other thing to keep in mind, however, is the sis-con elf who is willing to do anything to protect his little sister (Sato’s second wife-to-be) from any dangerous interloper. He kinda comes around by the fourth episode, but dude’s a creep any way you cut it.
Also, what? This series is by the same author of To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts. That’s amazing.
Content Warning: Fanservice; sister obsessed with her brother; queerness as punchline.
Caitlin: BUCCHIGIRI?! is… a lot. The first episode was fun in its wildness, but three episodes in, it seems to have little intention or interest in slowing down for breath. That means, for all its wonderful, weird wildness, BUCCHIGIRI can get a little… overwhelming. Exhausting. Overstimulating.
It probably doesn’t help that, as much as I enjoy being awash in muscular upper bodies, wild hair and piercing choices, and an absurd sense of humor, the show is heavily indulgent in some of my least favorite things about Utsumi Hiroko’s oeuvre. Mahoro has a full-blown brother complex, resenting Arajin first for hitting on her and then for stealing her brother’s attention from her.
Meanwhile, any guy that Arajin punches while merged with Senya becomes obsessively in love with him, most likely because Arajin’s driving wish is to lose his virginity. I really wish Utsumi would just make a true BL already, because her tendency to tease homoeroticism without ever taking that final step has started to get frustrating.
I’m dwelling on the negative here, but I am enjoying BUCCHIGIRI, for all the same reasons I outlined in my premiere review. How could I not love a show where the villain delinquent rides around school on a toy camel?
Alex: Villainess Lvl 99 probably isn’t going to blow your socks off, but it has a certain charm and has some things going for it. Now that the bait-and-switch from the first half of the premiere is out of the way, the audience gets to spend more time with the protagonist.
Yumellia’s deadpan delivery won’t be for everyone, but there’s something I enjoy about her contrasting mix of people skills. She’s a similar type of creature to The Apothecary Diaries’ Maomao, able to play 4D chess when it comes to predicting character motivations and political machinations, but deeply awkward when it comes to a simple chat over tea. We’re also meeting other female characters whom Yumellia isn’t very impressed with right now, but the ending credits suggest she’s going to become besties with the game’s haughty villainess character, which could be fun.
The show is also establishing actual stakes, as Yumellia now finds herself courted by the various factions who want a powerful dark magic user on their side. It’s not super-complicated, but there’s a semblance of political intrigue here, with worldbuilding that makes structural sense and noble characters who actually seem kind of intelligent (which is more than you can say of some villainess isekai and/or fantasy series that try to play around with court intrigue).
Bless this show’s cotton socks, it also takes the time to include multiple bits of dialogue where characters say “you know, actually, Dark Magic isn’t inherently evil! It’s the same as other elements but it’s got a bad reputation, and this skewed perception in history and culture leads to unfair prejudice against mages who use it, and that’s bad!” Subtle? No. Twee? Yes. Wildly amusing? Also yes!
And honestly, even if this is laughably on-the-nose, I appreciate Villainess Lvl 99 making time to look the audience in the eye and squash all notions that there are inherently “good” powers and “evil” powers, and to lay out what stereotyping drawn from historical prejudice is and how it harms people, in such an (awkward, but still) earnest way. The show probably isn’t going to get too deep into threads of social commentary if this is its level of nuance, but hey, it seems to have its goofy little heart in the right place.
Content considerations: Death and bereavement; a boy who struggles to understand personal space; comedic crossdressing, although the joke isn’t about the boys wearing dresses (everyone thinks they’re pretty) and more about them completely misunderstanding Himari’s request.
Dee: As the one (1) person watching this show, let me start by saying I quite like what I’ve read of the manga. The girl is spunky and the boy is sweet (but also saaaad!). There are mysteries to solve; a combination of cute, cool, and spooky spirits to get to know; and a slow-burn central romance grounded in mutual care. It’s not in my top tier of shoujo (an extremely high bar to clear), but I’d give it a solid B-plus and happily recommend it to folks who enjoy supernatural series, especially if you’re tired of abusive paranormal love interests and would like a Nice Cursed Boy for a change.
That said, the adaptation is pretty utilitarian, as is often the case with shoujo (sob sob). It’s not awful, but the simplified designs lose a lot of the manga’s beauty; the animation is predictably minimal; and while the saturated color palette works well for the paranormal scenes, it doesn’t gel as well with the everyday interactions.
More concerningly, the anime is covering the material at a brisk pace: a little over two volumes in just three episodes. It doesn’t feel rushed, exactly, but I worry it’s cutting some key details. Aoi’s tendency towards physical affection may seem predatory in the anime, while the manga makes it clear it comes from a place of isolation and naivete. I’d ask an anime-only viewer for their thoughts on the characters, but I can’t find any (sob sob again).
Ultimately, it’s a competent enough adaptation that I’d encourage folks to give it three episodes if you don’t have access to the manga and would like a good shoujo in your life. If you can access the manga, though, just do that. I suspect you’ll have a better time reading this one.
Chiaki: I really appreciate Rishe being the resourceful heroine that she is. I was honestly sold with her when she combat-rolled out the second story window in full court dress, and she’s only grown on me since.
Rishe is the epitome of a “strong female character,” having technically lived a cumulative 40-ish years with her previous six lives included. But more than just her larger breadth of experience in life, it’s her ability to be resourceful enough to put those experiences into action that make her a solid character. And standing opposite of her is Arnold, who is just as capable, but serves as both a complement and foil to Rishe being an over-accomplished young lady.
Basically? If you’re looking for a dose of romance with a well-written heroine, this is still a good bet.
Content warning: Bloody violence.
Alex: A new conflict—maybe the central one—in Solo Leveling has unveiled itself as the series progresses past the premiere. After barely surviving a terrifying dungeon, Jinwoo starts seeing something like a video game interface overlaid over his vision, offering him stats and daily quests… and threatening to whisk him away to dangerous otherworlds if he doesn’t complete his objectives.
Honestly, this is kind of a cool, creative remix of the isekai convention of having stats menus and game rules woven into fantasy settings. Rather than treating it as a natural skill (or a worldbuilding shortcut), here this device is strange, haunting, and a source of plot conflict; rather than an instant power-up, this new ability is a frightening thing that may see Jinwoo exploited by shady corporate entities, which of course are much more sinister than the monsters.
However, three episodes in and this show still has the same character problem I noted in the premiere. Jinwoo’s sister has gotten a little more screentime, but she’s basically entirely characterized by being the plucky yet sweet younger sister that Jinwoo needs to keep safe. Their mother is literally in a magical coma. The healer girl from the first episode spends most of Episode 2 in hysterics before using up all her magic rescuing Jinwoo, and gets knocked unconscious and carried out of the dungeon for her own good.
The mystery of Jinwoo’s new power is, as I said above, interesting in some ways, but in others it just pins him as an archetypal “zero to hero” male protagonist who wins the ability to be special after everyone doubted him. New takes on the genre are all well and good, but without a human element to hang onto, this series is sliding off my brain a bit.
Content Warning: Bloody violence; human experimentation; child death (offscreen).
Vrai: A heavy amount of my continued interest in this show is tied to the prestige around Mizukami Satoshi’s name and the news that it will have 37 episodes. That’s plenty of time to get into thematic complexity and the kind of dissection of popular shounen genres that Mizukami is well-regarded for.
Sengoku Youko has already set up the basic pieces, with the first three episodes serving as an introductory arc for our four leads and their relationship to the concepts of “monstrosity” and “strength.” Shinsuke is convinced that the only way for the weak to overcome oppression is to gain power (and become, implicitly, aggressors) themselves, but it’s such early days that I’d be shocked if that weren’t a central theme the show intended to interrogate.
Right now I’m keenest for Shakugan and Tama to get more to do. Tama, particularly, has been somewhat relegated to giving exposition and then letting Jinka use her supernatural powers in fight scenes. She doesn’t need to be a fighter, especially in a show that’s theoretically about the worth of violence, but since the entire world-changing quest was her idea it’d be nice if she could continue actively driving the plot.
If you like historical fantasy battle shounen, this is worth checking out now, but folks waiting to see exactly if and how it turns things on their head might wait around for the end of the first cour to see how the story is shaping up. There are seeds of something more at work, but it’s currently wandering around in fine-but-predictable “what if humans were the real baddies” territory.
Spoilers: Vague discussion of episode 4.
Content warnings: Death/violence towards both adult and child androids (many of them dark-skinned, many of them women); state oppression and violence.
Dee: It’s a shame I watched Episode 4 before writing this review, because while Metallic Rouge’s first three episodes were fast-paced and thematically messy, it was also an entertaining ride, gradually revealing new details about the world while anchoring itself in Rouge and Naomi’s teasing, combative partnership. It also ticked a lot of boxes for “things I personally enjoy”: cool ladies, anti-oppression spec-fic, Bones fight scenes, musings on the nature of freedom. So, despite treading some well-worn thematic ground with its “android rights” premise, I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Unfortunately, Episode 4 only added to my concerns. It positively screams “we wanted two cour and only got one,” blazing us through plot twist after character beat after action sequence. Worse, it splits up Rouge and Naomi, trading in their back-and-forth dynamic for some rapid-fire, largely unearned drama. It’s well-staged with some strong visuals, so I didn’t hate watching it, but it’s all fog machines and lasers, lacking weight.
On paper, “recognizing and grappling with one’s complicity in a corrupt system” is compelling stuff, but Rouge’s change of heart is happening so quickly that it feels less like character development and more like plot mandate. Add to that the high percentage of dark-skinned and child characters introduced solely to die so we can feel bad for the androids, and I’m losing reasons to keep watching outside of “Naomi good.” Maybe the next episode will get us back on course, but if you’re not already on this ride, I’d hesitate to hop on at this point.
Spoilers: Discussion of Episode 4.
Content Warning: Fantasy racism.
Chiaki: Much like in the overworked previous life Nema lived, I am under a lot of constant stress and lament that I lack a soft cat to pet on the harshest and coldest nights. Fluffy Paradise potentially offered me the respite I so desperately craved—but instead, the show never lets viewers forget that Nema was reborn into the new world to act as a judge to determine if they’re too racist to continue living.
So far, Nema’s immediate family, the King and his family, and some of the main characters are generally good, normal people. Maybe God was jumping the gun after all?
Ha ha, just kidding. The church is blatantly, obviously evil. We know as much because Nema’s father tells the audience that the church has brainwashed a woman to become an oracle to say whatever convenient truth they wish for. While Nema decides to not jump to conclusions when she first meets with the church, she later confirms her suspicions in Episode 4 when she meets her homeschool teacher, who is an outright racist religious conservative.
While Nema managed to spar with her teacher against her racist views on beast people, she ultimately sticks around as Nema’s tutor nonetheless. Sure, she’s no longer being mean to Nema, but she’s still in her life teaching her how to sew, and I’m doubting she’s ever stopped being racist in her heart. It kind of underlines how the show’s approach to addressing (fantasy) racism ends up being too two-dimensional to really work.
Nema’s gonna need those fluffy animals to hug, because I’m guessing the whole “church is racist” plot line is only going to become more prominent from here on out. It’s a little exhausting for me, but I hope they can do something worthwhile with the story.
Content warnings: Ableism; unwanted sexual advances.
Toni: I’ll be honest, I love a romance between disabled and nondisabled people, likely because they can reflect much of my disabled dating life: the desire for romance to bring you into a new world that’s been previously inaccessible; the satisfaction of access intimacy when your lover makes an effort to understand and meet your needs; and the question of if you are seen as a true partner to your lover, or a burden, or, worst of all, a “project.” I’d also suggest checking out the comments of our premiere review for some great discussion of the show from HOH viewers.
It’s also worth saying: Itsuomi is hot. I know many people were uncomfortable with his initial physical displays of affection, but honestly this show is operating like many shoujo anime as wish-fulfillment for me. I know as a feminist media critic, I should believe in affirmative consent, but humor me: the idea of a man who knows that I want to be pulled into his broad chest and held close without me even saying it? Hot.
Yuki herself, while functioning in some ways as a self-insert character, has her own sense of self that is separate from him. She is deeply empathetic and caring, while also not being afraid to set boundaries. Sometimes, however, I wish she would set them a little harder, especially given the frustrating presence of Oushi, the irritating “childhood friend” character.
Oushi makes horribly ableist comments to Yuki, and it is concerning that the show sometimes comes across as romanticizing that ableism, especially when Yuki says she can tell he says these things because he’s “concerned.” The series is clearly presenting his romantic overtures as doomed, but that doesn’t make them any less gross and borderline abusive—and I wish the show seemed to understand that.
Interestingly, Itsuomi has his own manipulative childhood friend trying to get in his pants, and his struggles to set boundaries with her seem to parallel Yuki’s. It’s also refreshing to see that Itsuomi never blames Yuki for being pursued by such a creep.
Overall though, despite a few missteps and points of concern, A Sign of Affection is well worth watching and enjoying.
Content considerations: Sexual harassment (condemned by the text); continuous jokes about virginity; internalized homophobia.
Toni: Cherry Magic is a show that gets better as it goes. The first episode was rough for me, leaving Kurosawa somewhat of an empty character other than “I’m obsessed with Adachi,” and leaving Adachi somewhat of a sad sack. The magic virginity powers felt like a bad gimmick to force the characters to confront their feelings quickly, much in the same way that sexual harassment used to function in older BL. Their relationship lacked chemistry.
However, Episode 2 shifted my perspective on the virginity powers, revealing them to be a useful device the narrative could use to talk about the closet. The magical powers function to create absurd situations where Adachi can see so much of Kurosawa’s interest in him and still feel uncomfortable acknowledging his own feelings, even to himself.
Then came Episode 3, when we finally got some of Kurosawa’s inner monologue independent of Adachi’s touch, and it does a lot to lessen the frustrations I’ve felt over this series. Whereas before I was feeling like Kurosawa was an extremely underdeveloped character, I can now see that the audience’s impression of him was strictly through the lens of Adachi’s warped perspective. Kurosawa’s experiences of being objectified, sexually harassed, and discounted because of his appearance felt like an interesting gender reversal of a usually female trope, and I am curious to see how it develops.
Special shout-out also has to be given to Kazuki Akane’s stellar opening animation, which is probably the best opening I’ve seen in years and is yet another example of Akane’s commitment to honoring queer narratives in his work.
Content Warnings: Militarism, waterboarding/torture, comedic nudity, bombings, one-off jokes about an adult man sleeping with an unconscious teenage girl.
Vrai: Well, Bravern is definitely trying to say something with its parody of not just giant robot anime but hero stories in general. I question the borderline revisionism of starting your alternate universe story with an aerial attack on—of all places—a Hawaiian military base, with the US and a fully militarized Japan incidentally palling around. That said, going from a fight scene with a diegetic heroic theme song to having your protagonist get waterboarded by US intelligence is quite the called shot.
Whether it can land that shot is more up in the air. Director Obari is a veteran of mech anime from all across the quality spectrum, while series composer Koyanagi Keigo’s recent work is the similarly gung-ho Sirius the Jaeger and…the Shield Hero adaptation. Still, I want to believe Bravern can pull it off. The juxtaposition of brightly colored robot fights, recruitment poster-worthy military speeches, and moments of PTSD and devastation is continually compelling.
What it needs to tie it all together is a heart, which will come down to how seriously it wants to treat its homoeroticism. It’s definitely relentless, whether it’s homages to Top Gun’s volleyball scene, Bravern’s thinly veiled dialogue about wanting Isami inside him, or the passionate shirtless duet over the end credits. But it’s not clear, at least to me, if it intends to take the chemistry between Isami and Smith seriously. Again, I want to believe, partly because there’ll be a hole in the heart of the story without that emotional core (and because it increasingly feels likely that Bravern is Smith via some kind of time travel nonsense).
The show certainly doesn’t seem especially interested in women. They’re mainly in secondary support roles with the exception of magic space girl Lulu, who has a toddler’s maturity and whom Smith seems to treat as a daughter. I’ll give it slight credit, though: after some unpleasant misunderstandings about Smith’s intentions for her unconscious body, any nudity was shot for comedy rather than fanservice. But even if Bravern crashes and burns, I’m definitely glued ’til the end.